Location and Setting
Ross Priory is situated on the southern shore of Loch Lomond some 25 miles (40km) north-west of the centre of Glasgow. Conic Hill 1,175'(358m) rises above Balmaha about 4km across the loch, and beyond stand Ben Lomond 3,196' (974m) and Ben Vorlich 3,054' (931m). The Highland Boundary Fault runs through the north side of Conic Hill. South of the faultline extending to Ross Priory, the underlying geology is of the Old Red Sandstone Series. The islands in Loch Lomond form significant features in the foreground setting of Ross Priory. Five of these islands and part of the mainland around the mouth of the Endrick Water to the east of Ross Priory are owned by the Nature Conservancy Council, forming part of the Loch Lomond National Nature Reserve. Views are gained across the loch to the mountains beyond providing a magnificent setting to the designed landscape. The situation of the site is secluded, nestling on the low shores of Loch Lomond. It can be seen from the loch and the village of Balmaha on the east shore. The lodge at the south entrance is significant from the minor access road which forms a loop off the A811 on either side of the village of Gartocharn, 2km to the south-east of Ross Priory.
The house stands some 150 yards from the shore of Loch Lomond which forms the northern boundary of the site. To the south-east, the parkland extends to the lodge and the road from Gartocharn although the ownership boundary runs only to the eastern edge of the woodland flanking the Ross Burn. To the south-west, the designed landscape extends to the outer edge of the west wall of the walled garden. Historically, the estate probably included Ardoch Wood and Scroggs Wood, part of the coniferous Garadhban Forest, now under the ownership of the Forestry Commission.
Documentary evidence exists in the form of General Roy's map of c.1750, the 1st edition OS of 1860 and the 2nd edition of c.1900. Comparison of these maps indicates that the extent of the designed landscape has changed little since the 18th century. An Improvement Plan by James Abercrombie in 1793 is referred to by Alan Tait 'but little of it appears to have been done'. (SRO.GD 47/1163). The present landscape includes some 63 acres (25ha).
The existing designed landscape was laid out c.1812 as indicated on the 1st edition OS map of c.1850. The 19th century design incorporated features such as the south avenue from the 18th century landscape which is indicated on General Roy's map of c.1750. The landscape was maintained in a similar form, shown by comparison of the 1st & 2nd edition OS maps until 1925 when the woodland garden was developed.
Originally called 'The Ross', the estate belonged to a cadet branch of the Buchanans of nearby Buchanan Castle from the early 17th century. They built the original house which was later altered. In the 18th century the male line died out and when Jean Buchanan, the heiress, married Hector Macdonald in 1793 she added her surname to his. They were subsequently responsible for commissioning Gillespie Graham to remodel the house and for laying out the designed landscape which now remains.
Sir Walter Scott was a family friend who visited several times and wrote a number of letters from the house, and is said to have written at least part of 'The Lady of the Lake' and 'Rob Roy' here, although this is doubtful. Hector died in 1828 and Jean in 1852. Their daughter married Sir Alexander Wellesley Leith, Baronet, and the family thus assumed the name Leith-Buchanan. Their grandson, Sir Alexander Edward Leith-Buchanan, owned the estate in 1906. An article of that year describes him as being widely travelled and actively managing the estate in pursuit of his sporting interests such as golf, shooting and fishing.
The house was leased to Major & Mrs Christie in 1927. In 1971 it was sold to Strathclyde University, having been owned for a short time by Mr Teacher. It is presently used as a Residential Club for employees of the University.
Ross Priory, listed category A, was originally built in 1693. It was altered in the 18th century and, in 1812, the wings of the house were removed and extensive additions made to the central portion in Gothic style, to the designs of James Gillespie Graham.
The Stables, listed category B, stand on the shore of Loch Lomond. Built in 1794, part of the building has been renovated for letting purposes by the University. The Lodge, listed category B, is situated at the main entrance on the southern boundary. A Memorial to a cat named Chingly Put stands in the garden, dated 1883. The Graveyard of the Buchanan family is situated in the woodland to the east of the Priory.
The parkland lies to the north and east of the house and main avenue and the shore. It would have extended as far as the lodge, as shown on the 2nd edition map of c.1910. Avenue planting is shown on the 1st edition map of c.1860. Of this, oak, lime, sycamore and elm remain, many of about 150-200 years, between the house and Ross Burn which crosses the drive almost at its half-way point. From here to the lodge, most of the original trees have gone and ornamental trees have recently been planted. A beech avenue once extended along the shore to the west of the house. Some of the original beech remaining here are about 200 years old.
The parkland outwith the policies today is farmed and most of the trees have gone. Within the policies, the park to the east of the house is a 6-hole golf course. Daffodils have naturalised throughout and, adjacent to the house, a putting green has been formed.
The woodland remaining within the policies lies on either side of the Ross Burn and extends from it along the shore. It stands on the site of that shown on General Roy's map of c.1750. At the edge of the woodland, next to the main drive, species are predominantly birch with alder, sycamore, willow and rhododendron. The Buchanan Burial Ground lies within this woodland. Alder has colonized on the shore of the loch and has been fenced from the park. A shelterbelt of spruce, Scots pine and larch stands by the stable-block.
The woodland or 'natural' garden stands to the west of Ross Priory. It has been developed from a garden, of formal plan, which is shown on the 1st edition OS map of 1860. A Yew Walk extends down the centre, running approximately east/west and another, narrower, walk runs perpendicular to it. The garden is enclosed on two, formerly three, sides by a mixed hedge and is open to the south and west. Gateposts stand on the line of what was the original western enclosure of the garden. 'The Scottish Field' article of 1906 describes the garden with 'Azaleas, of varieties now forgotten and colours never now seen, have grown to the size of trees'. Major and Mrs Christie developed and extended the gardens south and east to meet the drive amid a mature mixed deciduous canopy. They introduced many species Rhododendrons, a few of which have known provenance. By 1986, almost all plants had been named, many of which could be reliably referred to plant lists made by Major Christie. North of the Yew Walk, small enclosed grass areas were created by the Christies enabling sheltered views of the loch. Other open areas have been made recently in the course of clearing invasive species and diseased trees. Birch varieties are being established south of the walled garden. Photographs of the garden in its heyday are kept in the Garden office.
The walled garden lies in the south-west corner of the woodland garden. Comparison of the 1st & 2nd edition OS maps indicates that the garden had been moved and expanded in the late 19th century. By the 1970s, it was in poor condition and infested with weeds. An old conservatory has recently been demolished and replaced by an aluminium glasshouse. The orchid collection from the Orchid House has been dispersed and added to the collections of Glasgow District Council's Park Department. The garden wall has been rebuilt with the aid of the Manpower Services Commission. In the course of this work, the south gate was replaced by a 'Moon Gate', allowing a view to the garden beyond. The garden is currently under restoration; a cypress hedge has been planted down the central path enclosing a rose walk, borders have been established within the perimeter walls, and new alpine beds have been built.